West Sussex County Council has confirmed that the company behind oil drilling at Broadford Bridge, near Billingshurst, is to seek an extension to its planning permission for the site.
Kimmeridge Oil and Gas Ltd, the site operator, published a notice yesterday that it intended to apply for a variation of the existing permission, which is due to expire in September.
A spokesperson for the council said the company wanted to extend the permission for another 12 months to complete work on the site.
Broadford Bridge Action Group, a local alliance of environmental organisations and individuals, said it was appalled by the news. The group said the existing permission was already “over-stretched” and granting an extension would amount to “writing a blank cheque”. It said the company should be required to apply for permissions that “fully reflected” work that was being carried out.
Kimmeridge Oil and Gas Ltd (KOGL), a subsidiary of UK Oil and Gas Investments, is currently taking rock samples from the oil exploration well. It announced earlier this week that it had successfully recovered a core from one of the target sections of Kimmeridge Limestones (DrillOrDrop report). Last week, it told investors that mobile light oil had been observed in fractures in the samples.
West Sussex County Council told DrillOrDrop it had seen a copy of the draft planning application but KOGL had not formally submitted the document. The council spokesperson said:
“This is because the operator has to wait until a seven day period has elapsed from 29 June 2017. The operator then has 14 days in which to make the planning application to the County Council.
“Once that has been done, the County Council will determine whether the planning application is valid and, if it is, it will be registered and made available for public comment for 21 days.”
The current planning permission, approved in February 2013, allowed UKOG to establish a well pad, drill the borehole and carry out short-term flow testing, followed by site restoration. The environmental statement, which supported the 2013 application, said flow testing would take up to 14 weeks and restoration up to six weeks. The permission has just under 12 weeks left to run.
The former operator, Celtique, began work at the site in September 2014. But it got no further than site construction because of a dispute with its partner, Magellan Petroleum.
UK Oil and Gas Investments (UKOG) acquired the local exploration licence and the Broadford Bridge site in June 2016. It began drilling at the site in May this year. Under a condition of the planning permission, the site must be restored within three years of the start of work.
DrillOrDrop asked KOGL why it needed another 12 months and whether its application would include additional activities. A company spokesperson responded:
“There are no changes to the work programme. All we are seeking is additional time to complete that programme.”
Opponents of operations at Broadford Bridge have questioned whether KOGL should be allowed to explore for oil when the environmental statement for the 2013 permission was based on exploration for gas in a different rock formation.
Broadford Bridge Action Group said this afternoon:
“We are appalled that UKOG are applying to extend this phase of works for up to one year. This stretches an already out-of-date inherited permit to breaking point and it is unclear what they will be doing in that time.
“What has happened, for example, to the variation to the permit to allow for flow testing? How long would flow testing take place if granted? This second phase is even riskier and there is no clarity around the planning process.
“We are calling for WSCC [West Sussex County Council] and EA [Environment Agency] to insist that UKOG applies for a new test licence that fully reflects the works they are planning to carry out and for that to happen with proper public consultation.
“Granting them an extension of this already over-stretched permit is like writing them a blank cheque, without any proper controls or an environmental impact assessment.”
Last Sunday more than 120 people attended a public meeting in West Chiltington organised by Broadford Bridge Action Group (DrillOrDrop report).
Local residents were “desperate to know more about what is happening [at the site] and how it will affect them”, the group said. It added that it was disappointed that UKOG did not attend the meeting.